TNT 112 – San Miguel 103
With Gilas Pilipinas preparing for the fast-approaching SEABA championships, both the TNT KaTropa and the San Miguel Beermen had to play with depleted rosters.
It was tricky for both teams.
On one end, TNT was missing three players – Jayson Castro, Troy Rosario and RR Pogoy. There’s no need to justify how important they are to the Tropa. But on the other side, SMB did not have June Mar Fajardo – a name that should ring a bell. I mean, he’s only the most dominant figure the league has seen over the past decade or two.
You couldn’t really tell which one of them was hurt more with the pulling out of the Gilas players. But one thing was known: either team could still win a title, even if they had to play with incomplete lineups the rest of the way.
That’s just how strong these two teams are.
Their rosters are deep. That’s their similarity.
The difference? How much they utilize that depth.
Coach Leo Austria had received a lot of criticism for relying too much on his starters. Just last conference, many grilled him because his first five each averaged above 40 minutes in their seven-game semifinals against TNT. Of course, they all shut up when the Beermen won the championship.
The system works. It usually does. Because every guy in his starting unit can be argued to be a top 15 player in the league.
However, last night was different. Relying on the starters did not work mainly because the starters did not deliver. Well, not all of them at least.
Alex Cabagnot struggled from the field. He shot 3-for-15. Averaging 16.6 points per game this conference, he only put up seven. Arwind Santos wasn’t much better. He may have had 11 points, but he also shot poorly, 4-for-15.
The other starters had good games. Chris Ross almost got to a triple-double, tallying 17 points, 10 assists and six boards. Marcio Lassiter also had 17, while Charles Rhodes had a game-high 43 points.
San Miguel could’ve won the game without June Mar. They’ve done it before. They have enough tools to pull it off. But not all the tools worked last night. And when you usually rely on just five guys, having off-nights is barely an option.
Someone else had to step up. But that never came. TNT crushed SMB in bench production. They had 37 points off the bench. The Beermen? Eight.
There’s no denying the godlike performance of Donte Greene. A line of 41 points and 21 rebounds is no joke. No one can also discount the timely three’s of Larry Fonacier. Those two late-game treys kept the Beermen down for good.
But the balance of production was what gave the Tropa the boost. While Greene rested and nursed his fouls, Kelly Williams held down the middle. He scored 15 points as a second stringer.
TNT also got a lot from recently-acquired RR Garcia. In his first game against his former team, RR chipped in 12 points and three assists.
Debating the depth of TNT and SMB will probably take forever to resolve. Everyone knows they have second- and third-stringers who can start for another team. All we know is that, last night, the deeper rotation took the W.
Don’t get it twisted, though. This is not to challenge the system of Coach Leo. On no grounds can you argue against something that won five championships in seven conferences.
However, last night showed us that the vulnerability of SMB’s winning formula is its tendency to backfire. There is no room for complacency. Especially not without June Mar.